Thursday, December 3, 2009

'George W. Bush Makes His Stage Debut'

Well, I knew it would eventually happen, I just didn't expect the nature of it to be so, 'weird'. I was warned that this Austin critic was wacky. I thought, okay, wacky is probably good. Although the review is not 'to' bad, the paragraph about me looking and acting like George W. Bush was more than a little disparaging. If there is one person I don't want to be compared to in this day and age, it would be George. I'm searching for a 'sense of humor' in this particular chide, but failing to find one at present. This critic definitely has a bad case of theatre OCD with her other comments, still, I do recognize the truth of that particular performance, I was pretty tight that night. It was a very strange night, as I went in an hour and a half earlier to prepare. Who knows why I came out of the gate so void of any kind of fluidity--I had a very difficult time freeing up my body. I was stumbling in places that I never stumble, I had trouble chewing up the words. I'm usually great under pressure, in fact, I welcome it. Perhaps, I'm being asked to find the strange philosophical ramifications of why I had such a tangled performance. Still, even with some flaws, I do wish this critic would have used at the least a pentecostal preacher to make her point, but a politician? And George W. ?

After twenty-five years doing this, I still get stung with bad or mixed reviews. Although they don't linger like they used to, and fortunately, I've been blessed with some good ones on this 'run for the roses', still, a review of a show by a stranger who has been paid to write it for public consumption has always been a little disconcerting for me. I think that in 'these days', with the fall of the power of 'print news', I think it can be said that a 'good' review fails to really bring in that many people, and a bad review only serves to cause the cast, crew, and 'box office' to question their very worth on earth, (at least for a day or two). I remember back in the days of doing theatre in Phoenix, how awful it was to face a cast after they had just received a 'scalding'. Although many actors will tell you they don't pay any attention to critics, (and I believe some can actually adhere to this) most are devastated by a bad review. I've heard it said both of actors, writers, directors, and alcoholics, that they are 'egomaniacs with an inferiority complex'. I think there is some accuracy in this paradox. Having to go through with that first show after a bad review is an experience in itself. It's usually very quiet as everyone begins to come into the theatre to prepare. Then there is the gathering of everyone to 'deal' with the bruised egos. Then there is the dispatch of some thugs to confront the critic at home, (I'm just kidding here, even though the slashing of tires has run through my mind). That particular 'post' reviewed show can go one of two ways--either an over the top, over compensation performance, or most commonly, a lack luster performance that leaves everyone feeling worse. It might be interesting to costume a critic, bring them into the theatre on this particular night, and see what havoc they reek. I think it's especially bad on young performers that happen to be reviewed by a critic who is either, 1. Showing us his or her supreme literacy and power over the rest of us. 2. Any critic who has failed as a performer or writer 3. A critic who is clearly pathological--working out some anger or frustration brought on by a deprivation of childhood. 4. Critics that don't allow for testosterone fueled performances. 5. ANY CRITIC WEARING AN ASCOTT. Man, does this feel good! Okay, at this point, I need to admit something. A performer/writer's relationship to criticism is completely reliant on the most recent review. (the 'what have you done for me lately' rule) Another translation: Great reviews, I love critics! Bad reviews, I hate they're stinking guts and I'm getting a job overseas! Well, this is not much of a stretch of logic, after all, it stands to reason that lots of relationships can burn red hot and then freeze to death.

Again, I mention the Tennessee Williams' Memoirs. His relationship with critics in NYC contributed to his seven year depression, (he admits it was probably longer ) and says in the book that during the sixties, when he was doing his most mature writing, the critics completely turned on him--becoming even vicious in their distain. I suppose we do the same now with our celebrities, (and Tennessee Williams was a big one in the forties and fifties) we contribute to their success with our adulation, and then we destroy them when we finally expose any fault. Reading about a whole cast and crew of theatre luminaries waiting in someones apartment for the reviews to come out (in the middle decades of the twentieth century) made my palms sweat. Then, the reviews were everything. I think even in NYC, although the New York Times is still the most powerful print journalism still existing, its power has diminished considerably in determining whether a play will continue or close. With the advent of millions of dollars spent on a Broadway show, (ten million to open a musical on Broadway these days and that's conservative), advertising, public relations, and again, money, can change the equation considerably. What does this all mean? I suppose its just more rhetoric on the controversial nature of 'art and criticism'. Luckily, because I'm the only performer, I don't have to return this Sunday to a forlorn cast. And fortunately again, I've done the show enough to know that its quality theatre, and that anger burns more in me today than the loss of confidence.

Probably one of the greatest stories I ever read was that of the producer, David Merrick. He was the last of the great auteurs in the American Theatre, and when Frank Rich, a critic nicknamed 'The Butcher of Broadway' began to assert his power in the NY Times as a critic who could still 'close a show' with his reviews, David Merrick fought back. One such story is fantastically audacious. He found a man, also named Frank Rich, I believe, who lived in Brooklyn, sent a limousine, gave him theater tickets, dinner, champagne, the works. Afterwords, he ask 'Frank' how he liked the show. When this 'Frank' said, "I loved it..." Merrick took out a full page ad in the NY Times, declaring, "Frank Rich loved this show!" I love this story, because it shows you the lengths that people will go to fight back. Incidentally, Merrick also produced many of Tennessee Williams' plays.

I have to admit, just writing all of this has made me feel much better than I did this morning. To my readers, rather than ignore this review, I have to write the good with the bad, and I encourage you to read it and imagine yourself in the position of having received it--for the whole of the public to read it and 'have their thoughts on the matter'. It is a little frightening, I think you will agree. Still, the fine line between rationalizing and finding the truth is a fine line indeed, as Robert Evans is famous for saying, "There's your side of the story, my side of the story, and then there is the truth..." Austin.


Chuckh said...

Raymond, I didn't think the review, over all, was that bad and parts of it were good. She liked the writing and the story, but had a few production problems. Look at it this way; she may have raised a curiosity factor with the GWB comments. Just two cents from someone no so vested. I have no doubt in my mind that this is a very touching show. And the last line of the review, I thought, was awesome. She said that perhaps you've found a home in Austin...Personally; I think you should get a documentary crew to follow you and this show. It would make a great film!


Gerry said...

I read the review. Thought the reviewer focused on what would have been to me more minor aspects of the performance. I thought it was kind of a puzzling reaction to a show. Made me wonder about the personality of the reviewer. Which goes to show you that you never know how what you write and how you perform will hit someone. The reactions can be so totally different depending on the personality of the reviewer completely. I see you have drawn some conclusions about your own performance that night that may have influenced her impressions. I would just say that reviews are not going to be always good, that is without some painful nit picking about something that seems important to that reviewer, so you just have to get over those. Heed her suggestions some if you think she has a point. I thought it was kind of funny for her to compare you to George Bush. Actually I think that's more of a compliment than either you or she think. Depends on your political persuasion. I voted for him twice. And don't regret it. He is a charismatic figure. Not the smartest guy in the world but powerful enough to be elected president twice! That is no small potatoes. said...

I didn't mind the George Bush connection myself...he did wear a cowboy hat in the White House. He had that 'weird' sense of humor..maybe that is the the middle of the most difficult time an audience can imagine, you managed to crack jokes and make us laugh. That's what George did right in the middle of being so diplomatically correct that he couldn't help making jokes. I actually laughed hard at some things he did, like trying to get out of that door in China...he had this look on his face. I'm like Gerry...being compared to PRESIDENT George Bush is not that bad.

Anonymous said...

Didn't really think the review was bad, she liked the important aspects of the show, all the other stuff is minor and seems easily corrected if you choose to. I think you found your missing sense of humor half way through the blog. lol, I shall now refer to you as W.


LaRena said...

Well what in the hell does Elizabrth Cobbe know? In my wildest dreams I can't imagine comparing you to George W. Bush. (You might squint occasionally but that's it, period. It makes any possible validity of the rest of her review sound---well, down right dumb. Using a politician
as a comparative to a heart felt performance is just a plain cheap shot. Especially one with a very low approval rating. ( I believe it was the lowest in history.)

Ah well, we must move on in spite of petty people existing in the world.

Here is a wish for you I like. (You may see it appear other places as it is not original. Just seemed appropriate.)

May peace break into your house,and may thieves come to steal your debts.May the pocket of your jeans become the magnet for$100 bills. May love stick to your face like Vasaline and may laughter assault your lips. May your clothes smell of success like smoking tires. May happiness smack you in face and may your tears be those of joy.May problems forget your home address (In Austin and Boulder and where ever else you choose to wonder.)

In simple words may 2010 be the best year of your life!!

Anonymous said...

I think there is great humor in this review but mostly it's God's humor. The kind when we get so vehement about our beliefs or anger and He decides to tease you about it. I can't imagine anyone that you would hate more than to be compared to GW but it may provide a whole new act for you. You can give up your Jimmy Stewart and work on your GW impression. It's much more timely. It is a strange review but if you peel away GW, it still is fairly positive. Keep doing your good work and try to find the lesson. Love you. Cheryl